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Copyright © 2006
Express Publishing Inc
All Rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of Express Publishing Inc. is strictly prohibited. 

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The Sun Valley Guide magazine is distributed free three times a year to residents and guests throughout the Sun Valley, Idaho resort area communities.

Subscribers to the Idaho Mountain Express newspaper will receive the Sun Valley Guide with their subscription.

Alice and Andy Scherthanner 

Sun Valley Guides
Their license plate numbers read in the triple digits, which means they’ve been driving in this town since before most of us had even heard of it. They live at opposite ends of the valley, and their paths rarely cross. Yet each of these couples thrives in their niche, shaping the community with strong character and a commitment to their vision of the Wood River Valley. In the second of our Sun Valley Guides series, let them guide you through their slices of valley life. Words by Betsy Andrews. Photos by Paulette Phlipot.

Old School, Ski School
“A true friend is one that asks only what you can give,” says Alice Schernthanner, offering me cookies, lunch, orange tea and fresh basil (clipped from a pot she has just brought indoors because of the September frost). She does not offer me one of the ripe tomatoes. Alice is speaking of individuals, but it’s a mantra that extends to her 44-year relationship with the Wood River Valley.

Alice ran the Sun Valley Children’s Ski School for almost 30 years. She’s taught three generations of locals and guests, and she’s like the no-nonsense, old-fashioned mother you hear about and, if you were lucky, that you had. She is sure of her boundaries, confident of her take on the world, irritated that her husband, Andy, is out changing a tire on the horse trailer because not only is he avoiding me but he’s heading out for a ride. It’s Wednesday, it’s Alice’s day to ride that horse (they have three), and she doesn’t know where he plans to go, or when he plans to return.

Andy taught skiing on Bald Mountain, Sun Valley’s premier area of vertical runs, for 40 winters, retiring three years ago. He is 77, Alice is 68, and the couple still lives in a home they dug a foundation for and erected in 1962 on the hillside a mile east of the base of the Warm Springs ski lifts. The house is surrounded by acres of undeveloped sagebrush, and beyond that, homes that have seen better days, which they rent to what seems like half the young workforce of Ketchum. Everything else that is not public land has evolved from economical ski shacks to million-dollar properties.

Alice fiercely guards the old world: the Schernthanner land would make them a fortune—if they sold it. They do not plan to do so. “What do we need a fortune for?” said Alice. The acres of blooming sagebrush are a feast for the eye; they seem a tiny holding, frozen in time, protected only as long as Alice and Andy fight for them.

The two have truly realized the ski town dream, arriving during Sun Valley’s heyday, skiing for a living, building a home and raising six children. What does it take to follow that dream? Sticking to it, according to Alice, and not squandering what you’ve got. “If you are cheap, and you don’t go out, and you don’t give too much away and you don’t have fancy clothes, then you have a chance. It’s not what you make, it’s what you do with what you make.” She looks at me pointedly and I wonder if I really needed the new pair of Merrells.

Alice is beyond caring what strangers think of her. She shakes her head, remembering some gossip from years past. “I’ve heard about the few different affairs I’ve had,” she laughs. “Three, I think. It was news to me.”

Alice and Andy met in Maine, where she had grown up, and where he had emigrated from Austria to teach skiing at Sugarloaf Mountain. In 1959, he was sent to Lewiston, Idaho, while working for a New York company that sold paper and trade journals. One weekend, he drove to Sun Valley. As he tells it, he stopped on what used to be an airstrip up on the north Big Wood River, looked toward Baldy and said, “This is the place I want to live.”

He bought some land, but then he and Alice moved to California. Alice hated it. “I felt totally fat and obnoxious there,” she recalls. She described her neighbors: idle, discontented housewives drinking through the day and offering their stolid New England acquaintance recreational sedatives. When Andy found a building crew to frame a house on their Idaho land and asked if she could be ready to leave the next day, she said, “I’m already ready.”

Today, many of the Schernthanners’ Sun Valley friends have moved away. The couple is cynical about Ketchum’s future, having attended “more town council meetings,” and having dealt with corporations looking to develop their corner of sagebrush. A neighbor recently called asking her to clean up her corral because he’d put his home on the market. “But what if we did, and then the person who bought the house found out that we just keep our corral messy?” she asks. This stubborn “take me as I am” attitude has played an important role in making her dream come true. It’s their dream. And in it, there is a messy corral.

Janet Kellam and Andy Munter

Mountains and Rivers
Long and lanky, Andy Munter reclines in a chair as though immobility were his natural state. Janet Kellam, his wife, leans forward intently, one hand busy with a chew stick so their new pound puppy, Willie, a slender Australian shepherd, will chew on it instead of the furniture.

Munter’s lassitude is deceptive: His idea of relaxation is hiking into the mountains on skis with Kellam, where the couple spends hundreds of hours annually “just poking around.” In the summer, they paddle rafts and kayaks down some of Idaho’s most beautiful rivers.

Both understand the symbiosis of organisms and environment: It gives to you, and you give back. As president of the board of Idaho Rivers United and director of the Sawtooth Forest Avalanche Center, respectively, Munter and Kellam have taken their love of the Idaho outdoors several steps further than most.

Kellam has been buried in an avalanche, but the reminders of mortality the environment has sent her way haven’t dampened her enthusiasm for the backcountry. Instead, she has made a career out of promoting safe use of Idaho’s wilderness. “One of my favorite classes to teach is a women’s avalanche program; it’s about encouraging them to go out and participate in the decision-making,” she said. This year, her influence will extend nationwide as she takes on a new role as president of the board of the American Avalanche Association.

Thirty years ago, Kellam had never been in Idaho. As a student at Middlebury College in Vermont, she was offered a job with Forest Service fisheries biologists in Stanley. Before accepting, she studied a map. “I saw that it was this place with almost no roads. I called him back immediately and asked, ‘Can I have the job?’ I kept coming back for summer jobs. I knew it was home.” By 1980, she was a full-time Idahoan, skiing on the U.S. Nordic C Team until her discovery of the backcountry marked “the demise of my race career.”

A native Minnesotan, Munter arrived in 1977 from Duluth, where he’d co-managed a ski shop. “I wanted to come to the best ski resort in the West,” he recalled. “I knew I was employable, and I came for one year.” Now, he’s most recognizable as the face of Backwoods Mountain Sports, which he bought from its founder, Bill Wood, in 1983. Fifteen years ago, Munter joined Idaho Rivers United, a statewide nonprofit river conservation organization. The group’s agenda includes the Wood River Legacy Project, dedicated to restoring the lower third of the Big Wood to a living river. “I wanted to give something back (in return) for this sense of the wilds that the river has given to me, especially after the experiences I shared while learning to kayak with my son, Henry.”

Munter is hopeful about the future of the Big Wood River. “A lot of exciting coalitions between irrigators and conservationists are being formed. Water is a huge issue especially in the West, and we hope to help in a little way. We’re working toward a win-win situation.”

Both Munter and Kellam realize that conserving the wild parts of Idaho lies in education and compromise. “The reason I fell in love with Sun Valley is the mountains and rivers and the people,” said Kellam. “I have spent significant amounts of time in other communities, and this is a fabulous community.”

“I just have to ditto that,” agreed Munter. “There are issues, of course: economic diversity, growth, the highway, there’s no end of things. But there’s also no end of people trying to make things better. There are wonderful people, not just who live here, but who visit here. I can’t really imagine a better place to live. It’s still a real community. And there are enough models out there that we can take advantage of their mistakes, and their triumphs.” ____________________________________________

Mealnie and Jeff Nevins

Horses and Fire Engines
As the youngest children in large families, Melanie and Jeff Nevins both thrive on working with diverse yet like-minded folks toward common goals. This sometimes means waking up to 30 jousters in medieval garb traipsing about their ranch. “It’s really fun to look over your coffee in the morning and there’s this guy in armor,” said Melanie, who has become an integral part of the Sun Valley Renaissance Faire. She hadn’t even heard of it a few years ago, until an organizer saw her with her son, Jordon, who was dressed in Renaissance garb. “We’ll be there!” Melanie assured her. “Can I bring my miniature ponies?”

That’s a typical response for the energetic owner of Silver Bell Ranch in Hailey. A working ranch, Silver Bell buys “green” horses from Germany and Holland, which employees train for dressage.
Despite the rewarding work, Melanie thrives on giving. She praises the easy access to philanthropic causes in the Wood River Valley. “You can make a difference in a small community.”

Her husband, Jeff, uses the same words—“make a difference”—when he speaks of his work as chief of operations for Wood River Fire and Rescue. In addition to overseeing a full-time staff of 10 and a part-time staff of 40, he goes out on many calls, staunchly supporting his crew. “We have such good people. We try to create an atmosphere where people feel valued, that their opinions count.” His volunteers include doctors, construction workers and river guides. “I love the fire service community. It’s sort of a national brotherhood—” he struggles to find the right word, not wanting to exclude women. “Community? But that doesn’t have the same feel, the feel of family.”

Melanie was a firefighter, too, for six years, giving it up only when she became pregnant with Jordon, now 13. “The best part is the camaraderie,” she said. “There’s not anything like driving down Main Street in a fire engine, and you’ve got the sirens on and you’re with your friends. Or you’ve got your Christmas dress crammed in your turnouts and you know you missed Christmas dinner but you know you made a difference.”

Originally from Southern California, Melanie moved to Idaho in 1979 after a friend called and offered her a job. “My car had been broken into two times and my apartment broken into once in the past six months,” she recalled. “I moved up in two days.” Jeff had arrived a year earlier, to spend one winter. He stayed, joining the Sun Valley Fire Department in 1984, and never looked back. “It just got in my blood, the firefighting.”

The couple moved from Ketchum to Hailey nine years ago. “Ketchum used to be a wonderful small town with a lot of diversity, lifestyles, economic levels,” said Melanie. “It was one group, and it was really rewarding to be a part of. I feel Hailey now is the same way. It’s very safe. It’s a little microcosm of everything that’s good. In Hailey,” she continued, “the pace is slower.” Jeff nods in agreement. “I love Hailey for its value system.”
But the two don’t kid themselves—they recognize that Central Idaho presents a homogeneous environment that can repress a creative soul. They consider travel a fundamental part of raising their son, reinforcing the value of diversity. In a town that places more value on how many pairs of skis you have than how many instruments you play, Jordon plays the mandolin, flute and piano.
Melanie envisions the Sun Valley Renaissance Faire becoming grander. Jeff holds great hope for the future of the community’s fire services. “There are a lot of positive things going on,” he said, in spite of the struggle to stretch resources for a growing population. They realize that neither will happen by themselves. Getting in there and working together is everything.

In the background, Jordon plays Led Zepplin’s Stairway to Heaven. At one point, he looks expectantly at his father. Jeff smiles. “That’s where I usually start to sing.”